This award was significant to me not only because it is a wonderful financial support, but also because of the Foundation's connection to John Cage who was such an important figure to me.
- Julia Wolfe, January 2001
Julia Wolfe is a composer whose work brings a modern sensibility to folk, classical, and rock genres, while simultaneously tearing down the walls between them. Her music is distinguished by an intense physicality and a relentless power that pushes performers to extremes and demands attention from the audience.
Her 2000 Grants to Artists award supported the composition Dark Full Ride (2002) for Talujon Percussion Quartet. Her subsequent work includes My Beautiful Scream (2003) for Kronos and Orchestra, Cruel Sister (2004) for the Munich Chamber Orchestra, and include riSE and fLY (2012), a body concerto written for Colin Currie and the British Broadcasting Corporation orchestra. Anthracite Fields (2014) is an evening-length work based on life in the Pennsylvania Anthracite coal region, for the Mendelssohn Club Choir of Philadelphia with the Bang on a Can All-Stars. The work received its world premiere in April 2014 in Philadelphia and its New York premiere in May 2014 with the Trinity Choir as a part of the New York Philharmonic's inaugural NY PHIL BIENNIAL. A staged version of Wolfe's Steel Hammer directed by the legendary Anne Bogart with her SITI Company, Trio Mediaeval, and the Bang on a Can All-Stars premiered at the 2015 Next Wave Festival at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
Wolfe's work has been commissioned and performed within the United States and abroad by the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Carnegie Hall, the Sydney Olympic Arts Festival, MITO SettembreMusica in Milan, and Théâtre de la Ville in Paris. Wolfe has collaborated on multimedia works with composers Michael Gordon and David Lang, including FCPA-supported Lost Objects (2001). Wolfe's work with film includes FUEL (2005) for the Hamburg-based Ensemble Resonanz and filmmaker Bill Morrison, and Impatience (2007) for the Asko Ensemble and 1920s film experimentalist Charles De Keukeleire. She created the city-wide Traveling Music (2009) with architects DillerScofidio+Renfro in Bordeaux, France, filling the streets of the old city with 100 musicians walking and riding in pedi-cabs.
Subsequent to her 2000 FCPA grant, she was the recipient of a 2015 Pulitzer Prize in Music for Anthracite Fields. Prior to her 2000 Grants to Artists award, Wolfe received a Fulbright grant to the Netherlands (1993), awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1999), and an Obie Award for her score to Ridge Theater's Jennie Richie.
Wolfe received a B.A. from University of Michigan, an M.A. in Composition from Yale School of Music and a Ph.D. in Composition from Princeton University. In 2009 Wolfe joined the faculty of New York University's Steinhardt School. She has given master classes and seminars at The Julliard School, Cal Arts, Duke University, Peabody Conservatory, Yale School of Music, Columbia University, University of Illinois, University of Indiana, and University of Michigan. Wolfe is co-founder and co-artistic director of the music collective Bang on a Can.
Writing music for me is a constant evolution. I go through an intense search process at the beginning of each piece to figure out just what the piece is about. I work up a kind of maniacal focus. My music has been described as "breathless" or "relentless." I always try to tap into an urgency and intensity of expression.
Recent works have focused on American labor history and incorporate folk elements like banjo, mountain dulcimer, whistling, and the likes. Steel Hammer, written for the Bang on a Can All-Stars and Trio Mediaeval, takes the John Henry story as its focus—looking at the many versions and conflicting facts about the quintessential American legend about man and machine. My most recent work, Anthracite Fields, written for the Bang on a Can All-Stars and choir, is about life in Pennsylvania coal country. Recent recordings also include Cruel Sister and Fuel (with a film by Bill Morrison) both for string orchestra. And my body concerto for Colin Currie and orchestra is a rapid-fire roll of hands against chest and more.